Blue Beard

  • The blue transit between black and white is like that sadness that emerges from despair as it proceeds towards reflection.
  • The soul’s putrefactio is generating a new anima consciousness, a new psychic grounding that must include underworld experiences of the anima itself: her deathly and perverse affinities expressed alchemically … (Hillman lists female archetypes here)
  • Blue remembers, and the black in it doesn’t let things go. The tortured and symptomatic aspect of mortification – flaying oneself, pulverizing old structures, decapitation of the head-strong will, the rat and rot in one’s personal cellar – give way to mourning.

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Before I could go on and pursue my separate male and female paths one persistent question that kept popping up was:

  • Why do only men  find themselves at the Fisher King’s castle during their quest for the Holy Grail?

That still seems to me a hopelessly unanswerable question. I had hit adolescence as feminism was peaking, and had the dubious privileged of living within an hours drive of ARF- a compound of militant mostly lesbian all woman Hell’s Angel type biker chicks that pronounced themselves Armed Radical Feminists. But neither they nor the career-driven working woman seemed any happier or settled within themselves than housewives.  Becoming men was clearly not fulfilling women’s needs.  Then I realized I was asking the wrong question. So I asked:

  •   ‘What do women find when they arrive at the Fisher King’s castle?’

The answer was illuminating and unnerving. If Parzival never leaves his mother’s house in the wood, if he never sets out on his quest, he grows old and impotent, forever the son and never the husband. The tale of Bluebeard is the story of a man has never left his poor widowed mother’s side but still lives in her house out in the wild woods. He seeks to marry time and time again, but all his wives fail to meet the conditions he sets on their marriage. Once they are committed, he gives them all the keys to the many doors in the castle he has made of his mother’s hut. Then he tells them there is one room that they must never unlock.  When they unlock that door and look, and they always do, the key to that room begins to pour blood.  Then he has to kill them because they have found out his secret.

If we would have Blue Beard heal, we have to be willing to figure out how to truly unlock the forbidden door, not just spring the psychic trap. The bleeding key is often interpreted as representing menstrual blood. Truthfully, while men may be confused, frightened away or repulsed by menstrual blood, very few of them are driven to murder by it. Serial sex killers on the other hand, men like Blue Beard who are repeatedly driven to kill women,  are almost sure to be deeply wounded in their sexuality. When we look at the key and the lock as a sexual metaphor, it is the lock that is feminine and receptive. If the blood was a feminine metaphor, it is the lock that would be bleeding, not the key. What starts the unending flow of blood from the phallic key is the young wife’s attempts to insert it into her receptive feminine lock. Bluebeard repeatedly hands over his wounded sexuality to his ever-younger wives, but they cannot heal it for him.  The wound begins to bleed without stopping at the moment the young wife recognizes the secret that he will kill to keep. The secret that she must not see is that, like the Fisher King, he is impotent.

While Bluebeard is right that he must be willing to kill to regain his potency,  he is very wrong about who he is killing, and unfortunately, there are not many success stories in Northern European mythology for men who must slay the paralyzing demons of what the Jungian’s have termed the mother complex. It is no accident that so many of the troubled young Knights in myths and fairy tales have mothers that are weeping widows dyeing of grief.  Some recent studies have shown that there may actually be a biochemical substance in woman’s tears that inhibits men’s sexual drive.  Weeping women really do make men feel impotent! The tears of the sorrowing widow are the strongest tool she has in shutting down her son’s burgeoning sexuality and keeping him locked in her realm of the feminine. I finally began to understand the great appeal of the Greeks when I realized that a great many of their myths are focused on this issue. They are quite clear about who must be slain and why. They tell us that the Winged Horse Pegasus and his brother Chrysaor the Golden Boar spring forth from Medusa’s dead body after Perseus kills her.

The weapon that can kill the paralyzing demons of impotence, fear, and self-doubt that manifest as the snake-haired Medusa is the young man’s ability to discern and act on the truth. Parzival is warned that his magic sword he was given in the Grail castle will always strike true on the first blow, but will shatter on the second. Once a man has seen and admitted his fear, he must go ahead and act in the service of love and life. If he allows evil to lessen his love, and returns repeatedly to his doubts, his sword will shatter, and once again he will be frozen and impotent. Like the basilisk whose glare also turns men to lifeless statues, the main defense against Medusa is her own reflection.  While Medusa is transfixed by her own reflection, he is protected from her paralyzing glare and is able to strike the killing blow. The mirror like gleam of his shield reflects the other clearly; the weapon is his sword of discernment that cuts to the truth. Then he can finally complete the alchemical transformation from the black of ignorance to the silvery white of true reflection. The Winged Horse and the Golden Boar are then our young man’s instinctive ability to act, and his ability to recognize and nurture his sexuality and relationships appropriately.

In the  Jungian paradigm, women are reduced to wives that Blue Beard can murder, and mothers that castrate him so there is no constructive  way for any woman to relate to the Blue Beards of the world. If there is going to be healing, men are going to have to strike out on their own. All we can do as women is hope there are a whole lot of Pale Horses out there to guide them along their way.

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2 thoughts on “Blue Beard

  1. Wonderful, wonderful stuff! Thank you for your great observations and use of mythology to articulate some very important psychic truths.
    I agree that so many Jungians don’t move the myths far enough along, much like our modern culture which remains uninitiated, forever looking at the world as mirror and not realising they are looking at themselves unless they strike out on their own, with a willingness to suffer the separation of self and other. I look forward to reading more of your wonderful insights!

    • Yes, I think Jung himself did remarkable work for his time, but the alchemical process itself requires that the story keep moving along if it is to be relevant!

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